Wednesday, 10 July 2013

“Striker’s Mountain”: "Heartland" of the '80s

The poster advertising "Striker's Mountain"
on that ancient medium – VHS
It seems that Canadian actor Bruce Greenwood has been in just about everything. Watching him play Captain Christopher Pike in “Star Trek: Into the Darkness” made me swell with pride, as I always do when I see a Canadian actor make it big in the States, especially in a high profile movie. But it also reminded me of what could have been.

“Striker’s Mountain”: Launching pad?
The low Canadian dollar in the 1980s led to the creation of a robust Canadian film industry. Production moved north and a whole industry of Canadian filmmakers, technicians, and support staff developed. Much of the work was American TV and movie production, but there were Canadian projects too.

One of those productions was primarily filmed in Alberta in 1986 and debuted on CBC in 1987. It was called “Striker’s Mountain”, and could easily have served as a pilot for a TV series. It could have been a “Heartland” of the 1980s. Yet, it never did. Still, I was lucky enough to see it on TV a couple times.

A trip to “Striker’s Mountain”
The story was uniquely Canadian but with universal themes. The clash of generations, battling progress, resisting change, they were all part of "Striker's Mountain". The movie is set on a ski hill owned by a family that has been there generations. Now, things are tough and a wealthy developer has made an offer they can't refuse. If the Strikers cannot find another way, they will lose control of their livelihood, and with it who they are.

Jake Striker is the patriarch of the family and owner of the ski resort. Paul Striker is his brash, rebellious son, who sees opportunity beyond the ski runs. Ultimately, it is only when they set aside their differences, and face the threat ahead, do they begin to listen to each other and save the day.

Star power
“Striker’s Mountain” was not an anonymous movie with no-name actors. Bruce Greenwood played Paul Striker, while venerable Canadian actor August Schellenberg played Jake Striker. Leslie Nielsen, who played serious roles in Canada and Hollywood for decades before "The Naked Gun" and "Airplane!" came along. They were mostly bad guys, and this was no different, as he was the evil developer Jim McKay.

Another interesting note. Jessica Steen played Lowni Striker, a competitive skiier and daughter of Jake Striker, who is injured on the ski hill. Steen now plays the role of Lisa on "Heartland", so she did eventually land her recurring TV role.

The movie was written and produced by Wendy Wacko, who was one of a group of emerging Canadian filmmakers that also included Anne Wheeler.

Heartland of the '80s
It's unfortunate that nothing more came of "Striker's Mountain". It certainly was as good as some of the stuff on American network TV at the time. Whether it was funding, will, or timing, we will never know if it could have made it.

In fact, I believe it could have been "Heartland" in the 1980s. There are similarities to the current CBC drama. Both are centred on strong families, with their fair share of conflicts, running unique businesses. "Striker's Mountain" laid the groundwork to explore the same themes "Heartland" does, especially the clash of generations, resistance to change, and progress. Both are filmed in Alberta, exploring unique aspects of Alberta culture – the mountains and ski culture in "Striker's Mountain", the horse and ranching lifestyle in "Heartland". CBC really missed an opportunity 26 years ago. Twenty years after Striker's Mountain, they didn't make the same mistake twice.

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